Today’s blog comes from Zahra Ebrahim, Lake Superior Provincial Park’s 2022 artist-in-residence.
It was spring of 2022 when I got a phone call from the Friends of Lake Superior Park to let me know that I had been selected as one of the two 2022 artists-in-residence.
Lake Superior has played a huge role in my life.
When I was young, my family immigrated to Canada from Kenya and established Vancouver as our home.
Growing up, the Pacific Ocean was a companion, helping me feel a deep sense of place and belonging in a city and community that hadn’t yet understood how to embrace intersectional, racialized families.
The waters of the Pacific provided a connection to the coastal waters of the Indian Ocean that my family grew up on, serving as the backdrop to some of our most memorable moments.
Fifteen years ago, I moved to Ontario and adventured through its spectacular landscape. But it was only when I first camped on Lake Superior that I felt that same sense of place and belonging as I do on the west coast.
Lake Superior has been a salve, a respite that helped me find reconnection with myself, my family, and the broader community of the natural and spirit world.
Being selected as an artist-in-residence felt like an important moment to deepen that connection, to find a way to pay thanks to the land and more-than-human kinfolk for all it offers, but also to use the opportunity to decolonize my own artistic practice.
I decided to focus my work during the residency not solely on creating a visual representation of the landscape, but finding ways to listen to its stories, dialogue with the more-than-human beings (plants, animals, stones, etc.), connect to ancestors, and communicate those stories and conversations in a combination of words, images, and drawings.
I chose to compile all of these in the medium of a zine, a medium that has been historically used as a platform for lesser-heard voices to express themselves without the constraints of mainstream media.
Zines provide a vehicle for ideas, expression, and art. They build connections between people and groups, providing modes of communication in addition to information dissemination.
My intention was to focus on process over outcome, to listen intentionally to the land and make offers and commitments in return.
As importantly, it was an opportunity to recalibrate my approach to “community engagement” that permeates all aspects of my professional and artistic practice, and to learn how to go beyond dialogue exclusively with humans.
I spent eight continuous days at the Agawa Bay Campground (my most favourite place on Lake Superior).
The work of each day was to slow down, pay closer attention to my own rhythms and those of the beings around me, and better position myself to be a listener.
On the days it rained, I spent time in our tent listening to the sounds of the rain and learning about the stones that I had found that day: unakite, milky quartz, basalt, brecciated jasper, and serpentine.
**Please note: visitors are invited to explore provincial parks and are asked to leave them as they were found for others to explore. Removing any natural object from a provincial park is prohibited.**
On bright mornings, I block printed contour drawings of the lake, appreciating the many curves and soft edges of this powerful (and sometimes intimidating) body of water.
On warm afternoons, I retreated into the cool shade of the trails off of the campground, learning from the amazing Ontario Parks team about how to use our senses to connect more deeply into the natural world around us, and appreciate the tiny micro-worlds within worlds that live in the mosses.
And on clear nights, we spent our evenings fireside with the moon, enjoying all the ways in which she plays on the landscape.
As part of my residency, I had the opportunity to run a public program for visitors to the park, a small workshop inspired by Ange Loft’s Treaty Guide for Torontonians.
We drew the things we cherished about the lake and the land, we wrote all of the things we loved about these particular elements, and then made commitments and offers in return.
The session attracted park visitors across generations, inspiring a conversation about the ways in which we all connect – through our deep love for Lake Superior.
Finishing the zine
In the months that followed the residency, I began assembling the “pages” one by one, trying to best honour the depth of connection I felt with all of the more-than-human beings of Lake Superior, and the zine emerged.
The beauty of the zine as one output of this process is that it can be inexpensively reproduced, making the art accessible to many, and a non-harmful way to bring a piece of the experience of the park home. If you’re lucky, you may be able to snag a free copy next time you’re at the park!
Another wonderful aspect of zine-making is that it is a living piece of art, that can continue to evolve and change over the years, shared and co-created by many, that doesn’t produce waste or use toxic materials.
Appreciating the park
Next time you’re at Lake Superior, recognize that while we may think of it as serene and quiet, it is an active home to so many – a vibrant, cacophonous metropolis of ecologies, systems, and beings of many worlds – that we are privileged to share space with.
In a 2022 talk at the EYEO conference in Minneapolis, Suzanne Kite shared that if a stone finds their way to you, they want to tell you their history.
If you have the chance, and the opportunity arises, slow down and listen. You’ll be amazed by the stories they’ll share.
In 2023, the Friends of Lake Superior Park will support tattoo artist Alex Berens as Artist in Residence. Alex’s residency will focus on the forest floor.
Alex will be at Agawa Bay in early August and present two nature journaling programs for park visitors.